As opposed to our favorite songs, or songs we'd like to think define our listening habits, taking a look at what a person actually listens to can be far more revealing. With that in mind, every Wednesday we ask an artist to take a look at the most-played songs in their iTunes libraries and share with us the results. We do this on the honor system, and we ask our subjects to share a few words about each song.
Merging classical violin and hip-hop beats with a sultry vocal style, Emily Wells is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and composer known for the orchestral layers of samples and loops she incorporates into her one-woman live show. She once claimed in a NPR interview to be a huge Biggie Smalls fan, and her responses here corroborate with two Biggie tracks amongst the picks.
Hip-hop was a huge influence on the classically trained violinist (kind of reminds me of last week's Questionnaire) who goes on to say that Method Man's "PLO Style," also included here, "brought me to rap." The artist recently released her third album Mama, and later this year will issue Pillowfight, a collaboration with legendary hip-hop producer Dan The Automator.
Emily Wells plays the Crocodile this Friday (6/1) with 1939 Ensemble and Alice In The River.
"Queen Bitch," Lil' Kim: First of all, I can't believe Lil' Kim is my number one! Now, I love Lil' Kim, and this song in particular (obviously), but wow! I do have a tendency to get obsessed with a song and listen over and over until it's engrained in my skin like a pebble from a childhood fall. This song really does it to me. When I first moved to Topanga Canyon I'd listen on the tricky roads that wound up to my house and feel power.
"Come On," Notorious B.I.G.: I came to this Biggie song later than the rest of his records. I bought this on vinyl and listened all the time one summer that I was staying in a tree house sort of little room. It surprises me it has so many iTunes plays for that reason alone. It was absolutely a theme song that summer and the fall to come. I put it on a lot of mixes and would always play it at parties. I love the Sadat verse.
"Flume," Bon Iver: Soon after I got turned onto this record I took something of a solo journey to Joshua Tree to "figure my shit out". I didn't speak to anyone for a few days and set up a small studio in a motel there. I listened to this song many many times that trip (and as you will see below, "Skinny Love" too). I felt incredibly close to the lyrics, the simplicity of the production, and the break in the middle where it almost falls of the rails.
"La Salul Cel Negru," Dona Dumitru Siminica: This was on a mix CD that was passed to me by a friend of a friend and for some time I had no idea who it was or what it was called. I love love love this song. The warmth, the voice! The voice! The melody! I don't know what's being said, but it feels like grief and joy.
"Try Me," Esther Phillips: I was turned on to Eshther Phillips a couple of winters ago and this is the song that absolutely drew me in. It feels good from the moment it begins, and then the lyrics too, so good. It is sort of the perfect song if you ask me.
"PLO Style Remix," Ratatat ft. Method Man and Buddha: The original "PLO Style" was one of the first rap songs I ever loved. It brought me to rap, immersed in a rather Nirvana dominant Jr. High. When Ratatat came out with their two mix tapes of classic '90s raps with their danceable, pseudo slick guitar, bass, and beats, I couldn't tear myself away. I loved the way they re-imagined so many songs I already loved and knew so well. This was before I'd heard a lot of mash ups, and it was like getting gifted your favorite songs all over again. Ratatat! I'm grateful!
"Skinny Love," Bon Iver: Please see above to reference my "saved by Bon Iver in the desert" explanation. These two Bon Iver songs are, in my opinion, his absolute best, and will stand the test of time as songs go.
"Wayside/Back in Time," Gillian Welch: This song always makes me feel like I'm riding with the top down wherever I am. It's a song I go to when I need to be carried across the finish. It feels absolutely timeless and always, always sitting there waiting to be heard.
"Pyramid Song," Radiohead: I can listen to this song on headphones over and over. I remember being in Hawaii to play a festival a few years ago and walking home late one night on my own looking at the water. I felt the sounds somehow illuminating the future. I felt hopeful...against my will.
"ATLiens," OutKast: This record in general has been in constant rotation for me since it came out. It is a record that I can always go back to in any mood and want to listen to it. While I've built a lot of memories around it I would say that when I hear this I can always be taken back to an Indiana winter as a teenager and big car speakers and riding around with my friends, people rolling blunts and laughing and turning it up.
"You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You," Notorious B.I.G.: If I had to name my favorite Biggie song I think this would be the one. The lyrics first and foremost are what make this a great song. He makes me a believer. But the production, that beat, also does it for me, every single time.